Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Soup, soup, glorious soup

There was a certain inevitability to it all. The calendar might still have been registering August, but summer was little more than a memory in the air.

As the bank holiday weekend progressed, the weather teased relentlessly: just as it seemed to have brightened, with the sun out, blue across the heavens and real heat on the skin, cloud would dive over.

It was hardly an encouragement to sit out. At one point, in a flurry of optimism, I rapidly changed from jeans into shorts and plonked myself in a deckchair with a book.

Barely a few minutes later, the sun had disappeared.

That was probably the moment at which I conceded defeat and admitted to myself that there’s now bugger all chance of an extended summer.

It’s not that autumn has really arrived – I can’t smell the difference in the air yet – but with dark now descending by 8.30pm and the days dominated by cloud, comfort is in order.

On Sunday, I’d nipped up to our tiny farmers’ market to pick up a few bits and pieces.

One of the things I needed was a good head of celery – after all, given Saturday’s chicken roasting exploits, a burst of stock making was in order. And there is no stock without a stick or two of celery to go alongside the carrot and onion.

Which left me with a lot of celery.

On Monday, though, I caved in and made soup. Not something chunky and heavy, but cream of celery.

And as has increasingly become the case with soup in the last few years, no book was required. This was cooking by instinct, by experience and knowledge – perhaps even with passion.

The following will give you enough for two people for a lunch.

Take a large shallot and chop finely. Soften in olive oil.

Add a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves and your celery, sliced. I used six or seven sticks – not the very outside ones and not the very heart either.

Once that’s all sweated down a bit, add a glug of white wine for a touch of acid, and let that bubble for a moment or two.

Add chicken stock to cover and grind loads of pepper into it. Add a couple of bay leaves and then let it all simmer away gently for around 20 minutes or so.

Now, this is the one ‘fiddly’ bit – mostly because it does mean you’ve got a few bits to clean up after.

Strain the liquid into a clean pan. Blitz the vegetables and then stir back into the liquid.

At this stage, check the taste again to see what salt you need to add.

Pop in a generous pinch of finely chopped parsley.

Take it all off the heat again and leave for a few minutes to cool a little.

Add a good spoon of really thick cream, stir in and then gently reheat.

Serve with more chopped parsley and some croutons for a nice bit of crunch.

Okay, it ain’t ‘fast food’, but it’s very good and has a surprisingly complex taste, with the pepper adding a real depth that develops as you eat.

What it does demand is really good celery – organic is the best bet, simply because that way you know it’ll have grown properly and won’t just be sticks of flavourless crunch that render any culinary effort utterly pointless.

And just as two years ago – although that was a few weeks later – when my first response to the call of autumn was a light but fragrant and subtle soup (courgette in that case), this made me feel that perhaps all hope is not gone along with that disappointingly fleeting season.

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